Online ethics guidelines for student media

As student media staffs explore the possibilities of digital media for gathering information and telling stories, they encounter questions of ethics both new and familiar

As a general rule, reporters should follow the same ethical principles online as they do in print. For example, identify yourself as a reporter.  Don’t lurk in social media and take information without telling the author of that information who you are, verifying the source and confirming with someone else what you learned.

These online ethics guidelines focus on situations student newspapers, yearbooks, literary magazines, news shows and other traditional storytelling forms haven’t experienced much, if at all.

These guidelines hold as fundamental belief this statement, from a policy written in 2006 by a group of professional journalists:  “Online publishing has the opportunity to serve audiences in new and meaningful ways. Journalists have an important responsibility to explore that potential as part of their constitutionally protected responsibilities to hold the powerful accountable and to serve as a public watchdog.” 1 Student journalists reporting on any platform must continue to honor the values of truth-telling, transparency, accountability, accuracy, fairness and minimizing harm.  Applying those values to interactions with readers and sources in social media, through email, online comments and 24-7-365 digital journalism raises new questions, which these guidelines hope to address.

“In its highest form, journalism is the dissemination of accurate information and provocative commentary that puts service to the reader and the common good above any special interest or economic, political or philosophical agenda,” the professional journalists wrote. “What other form would be so worthy of such First Amendment protection?”